Saturday, March 28, 2015

Time to Round Up Glyphosate?

Glyphosate being sprayed over Colombia. (Photo; Wikipedia)
A World Health Organization panel recently labeled glyphosate, the main ingredient in the Round-Up pesticide, as a 'probable carcinogen.'

The evidence is not clear, as this New York Times article points out, and, in contrast, the German government recently ruled that the herbicide was safe. Glyphosate manufacturer Monsanto also insists the herbicide is benign.

But there's enough reason to feel concerned about using glyphosate, the world's most popular herbicide and to wear a mask and gloves while spraying it in the back yard.

Composition of the mixture sprayed over coca fields.
(Photo; U.S. State Department)
Unfortunately, however, that's not an option for many Colombian campesinos potentially exposed to glyphosate, which is sprayed from aircraft in a concentrated form to try to kill coca leaf plantations. Unfortunately, sometimes wind blows the herbicide onto homes, food crops and bodies of water, possibly leading to ingestion by people. Some reports have linked glyphosate to skin problems and miscarriages. And Ecuador worries enough about the impacts of herbicide spraying in border areas to have filed suit in international court against Colombia.

Glyphosate's effects are contested. While glyphosate does kill plants, coca leaf farmers have learned how to deal with it, by spreading a protective coating over their crops' leaves, harvesting the leaves when they see spray helicopters approaching, hiding coca plants between rows of food plants, or replanting quickly after spraying. According to some reports, there is even a 'Round-up ready' variety of coca bush.

A child's drawing shows coca leaf
spray planes killing animals. (Image: Daily Kos)
The loud and prominent coca spraying campaign has also generated lots of resentment against the United States throughout Latin America.

And while glyphosate spraying has been a component of Colombia's aggressive coca eradication campaign, Peru and Bolivia which do not allow spraying have also reported reducing their own coca leaf plantations. Moreover, it's not clear that reductions in coca leaf plantations have affected supplies in the United States and Europe. Cocaine prices are reportedly dropping in the United Kingdom, and higher drug prices in the United States may be due to a crackdown on precursor chemicals. It also appears clear that reducing supply is a much less effective way to combat drug consumption - since it drives up prices - than is reducing demand.

The latest report that glyphosate could be carcinogenic is no reason to ban the chemical. But it does provide yet another reason to consider shelving a dubious anti-drug campaign.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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